It is incredibly important that we, as educators, understand our role in standing up against exclusion, prejudice, and injustice. We have the ability to open students’ minds to new world views, and to possibly make them reconsider the views that their home environment pushed on them. I believe that we have a lot more power than we think, and that much of it comes down to engaging the students in meaningful dialogue about their own experiences. We also need to make sure, like Poplin and Rivera state, that we do not “overly romanticize or demonize particular groups of people” (2013, p.38). Many of us have seen the issues this causes—privileged groups become defensive and feel like they are being blamed for oppression, and this does nothing to help reach the goal of social justice.
With regard to human rights education, I feel that it is quite important to teach it and to start at a young age. Unlike some of the teacher concerns in the Struthers article, we do not have to begin by having elementary students memorize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I do, however, feel that it is decent to teach children what their basic rights are. Struthers writes that “reluctance on the part of teachers to address controversial issues on the basis that certain topics are inappropriate for young learners is frequently attributed to a desire to maintain children’s innocence” (2016, p.143). I think that adults need to start to realize that children are people, too, and that if we start social justice education at a young age, it is more likely to stick. Students will not have as many biases and will be more open to learning about diverse topics.
Since I am a secondary educator, many of my students have already formed opinions about social justice, prejudice, privilege, etc. I feel that my role specifically is to engage my students in discourse about these issues, so that they can learn from each other. Like Storms maintains, “through dialogue teacher candidates can broaden their perspectives and discuss strategies to promote equity in schools” (2013, p.38). I need to keep this in mind as I am teaching. We cannot promote change by shying away from these issues.
Poplin, M., & Rivera, J. (2005). Merging Social Justice and Accountability: Educating Qualified and Effective Teachers. Theory Into Practice, 27-37.
Storms, S. B. (2013). Preparing Teachers for Social Justice Advocacy. Multicultural Education, 20(2), 33-39.
Struthers, A. C. (2016). Human Rights: A Topic Too Controversial for Mainstream Education?. Human Rights Law Review, 131-162.